The United Firefighters Union of Australia has said a recent investigation into bullying and sexual harassment at Airservices Australia contains “glaring omissions”.
Aviation branch secretary Mark von Nida said that while he supported the review, it doesn’t highlight claims of inappropriate workplace investigations for minor transgressions, which he said can become “weaponised workplace violence”.
He also accused the organisation of operating an old boy’s club that “starts at the top” and involves managers shifting to safe roles when sanctioned for misconduct.
Last week, Australian Aviation reported that a fresh investigation into Airservices by a former sex discrimination commissioner found that 37 per cent of women experienced sexual harassment and 50 per cent of all employees bullying.
Elizabeth Broderick’s report identified that 20 per cent of respondents had “direct experience” of sexual harassment, rising to 37 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men.
It also concluded that “urgent action” is required to address the “very low levels of reporting” of the issue, adding, “It is clear there are work environments where people do not feel safe to speak up or to call out non-inclusive behaviour.”
The report found that bullying was a “significant and frequent theme” in the focus groups, interviews, written submissions and the survey.
Some 50 per cent indicated they had experienced bullying – 40 per cent in the last five years and 24 per cent in the last 12 months.
Von Nida, however, said that while he supports the “overall thrust” of Broderick’s review, it contains “two key glaring omissions”.
“Firstly, we refer specifically to a form of systemic and institutionalised workplace bullying and harassment that is repeatedly manifest at Airservices through inappropriate and procedurally unfair workplace investigations into alleged code of conduct violations,” said von Nida.
“This form of weaponised workplace violence has resulted in irreparable injuries to our members and their families.
“From a work health and safety perspective, this situation cannot be allowed to continue.
“This, from the union’s perspective, is one of the key types of workplace bullying within Airservices. It is typically instigated and/or perpetrated by senior managers who often use the threat of code allegations to seek compliance and also to undermine employee voice.
“Secondly, the union notes that ‘The Boys Club’ so often cited in the Broderick review starts at the top of Airservices, with many of the worst offenders occupying senior management positions. This is true despite cases of substantiated findings of misconduct against these people following ‘investigations’.
“These ‘old boys’ get transferred into ‘safe’ roles by way of sanction for misconduct, while organisationally unprotected employees lose their jobs. Where managers engage in misconduct they need to be investigated. We are aware though [of] cases of evident misconduct where this has not occurred.”
The investigation, commissioned by the business itself, also published numerous claims by employees, including:
- “[My manager said to me once] Why are you staying back at work? Do you want to f**k me? You should wear a dress. We can see your underpants.”
- “The culture [in this tower] is totally toxic. It’s like Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm.”
- “I am gay but I would never disclose it at work.”
- “There is a poor culture overall. [There is an] old boys’ club which is more akin to a pub.”
- “If you’re an ambitious female, there is no place for you.”
In response, Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield said, “Airservices will implement the report’s recommendations in full to ensure that we offer a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace for all of our employees.
“Prior to its publication, we had already undertaken a number of key steps to address unacceptable behaviours in our workplace and drive sustainable cultural reform. This includes the establishment of a dedicated Culture Program, introduction of a Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Policy, and the appointment of a chief people and culture officer.”